WON’T YOU TAKE ME TO BOCAS TOWN?

We  abandoned our original plan to visit Bocas Town for three weeks at the end of our stay here.  Bocas Town is intense (think Key West, Central American style) so we decided to stay three days. My husband Sam loves to drive, so we also decided to drive the 8 hours to get there.

Things were going along great along the international highway, when my extra astute husband detected a tire problem.  We had yet to traverse the mountains to get to the Caribbean side of the island, so this was concerning.  We finally found a spot to stop.  The tire was bulging along the sides and apparently ready to blow.  Sam changed the tire but we were halfway between Coronado and our destination.  Should we continue the mountainous terrain on the spare which was not much bigger than a candy life saver?

 

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Handy Husband

I won’t keep you in suspense, we continued.  It was stressful to be sure and the trip over the mountains was punctuated by winding roads, chickens crossing the road, Indians walking along the narrow highway and banana trucks and busses were whipping around corners.  Finally, we arrived in Almarante, where we were told that a man on a bicycle would meet us at the fork in the road and take us to Leezas parking where we would park the car and take the 30 minute water taxi to Bocas Town.  Weirdly, it happened just as described and we couldn’t have been happier.

We arrived before nightfall in Bocas Town and actually walked to our hotel which was very nearby.  I was so happy to get settled, freshen up and have some of that great seafood that everyone talked about.  I was starving so I was excited.

We were just about ready to leave our hotel room when ALL of the lights on the island went out.  We carry a flashlight so we wandered around a bit, but the restaurants closed quickly and since we had no idea what to do or where to go we stayed at our hotel.  They have a nice restaurant which was also closed but the beer was still ice cold.  So keeping with my husbands adage that “beer is food” we sat on the candlelit deck sipping beers.  It wasn’t terrible.  The lights did go on again after about 30 minutes and we were able to have one of my favorites, Corvina also know as Panamanian Sea Bass.

I had several must-do’s in Bocas, one was Starfish Beach which is in all the travel magazines.  The next day we packed our beach things and caught the local bus to the beach.  People were packed in pretty tight.  We were told it was a five minute walk through the jungle to get to the beach, more like 15 though.

The water is said to be very clear and there are starfish everywhere and tourists are admonished not to touch them.  Unfortunately, the beach was great but starfish were not plentiful and I am sure tourists have driven them further out but we did scope out a few.

 

Next day we took an excursion to several islands.  Zapatillo Cay was first.  It is totally uninhabited and you are dropped off on the beach and you can explore on your own.  There are no restaurants, no beach chairs, nothing.  It was really beautiful though.  We had lunch and relaxed at another beautiful island where you could look in the water right on the dock and see some beautiful fish and relax on a hammock.  Then we took a fast ride through the mangroves and saw sleeping sloths in the trees.  We also stopped to watch dolphins.  Another great day.

Later, we walked around Bocas Town.  There was a festival where adults scream at a devil and pretend to beat him with sticks.  There is a kid version, where the devil is smaller but just as much screaming goes on.  We discovered a great bar with great music and nice people.  Bocas has a lot of tourists, surfing is good and backpackers are plentiful.  There are people from all over the world.  Also, we ran into an old friend from last year that moved to Bocas, CeCe.  We were so happy to see her and catch up.

It was a great trip!

 

 

Lovely Coronado, Home of Picassos and Lagartos

 

We arrived in Coronado, Panama two weeks ago and I must say I am in love.  First of all we are staying in a gorgeous apartment on the 10th floor of the Coronado Golf Tower.  The thing about this breathtaking mountain and ocean view apartment is it’s affordable.  We would never be able to afford this in any other location I can imagine.  Coming from Aruba, we are constantly impressed  by how cheap it is to live, eat and play in our beach location which is approximately an hours’ drive from Panama City.

When we first studied this location last year, we made a trip here to visit our ex-pat friend Don.  He was sweet enough to show us around and introduce us to his friends who are mostly other ex-pats.  Picassos Restaurant is the epicenter  for networking, entertainment and good food.  My first impression was “Ah ha, so this is where all the hippies from the 1960s went”.  So did I really want to hang around here for an extended period of time?  As charming as flowers in the hair, granny dresses (for real) and orthopedic flip flops can be, is this for me?   Given its incredible beauty, we decided it was worth a shot.   As it turns out, the people are great.  They are friendly, eclectic and very entrepreneurial.  It seems almost everyone has a business and on Tuesday mornings at Picassos, business cards are passed out freely.  There is the egg seller known for his double yolks and heavenly Panamanian coffee grown in the mountains and processed in small batches.   There is a concierge service, a massage and reiku expert, numerous real estate agents and artisans of all persuasions.   As you can imagine there are also musicians from all over the world.  We were treated to an impromptu blue grass concert featuring local and visiting artists. As our new friend Scott the harmonica player and former tennis pro said “it was magical”.   If you closed your eyes you would swear you were in South Carolina, minus the moonshine.

With our lovely apartment came a golf package.  Sam has been practicing his game for a few years but I honestly was never too excited about the idea. But given the beautiful course literally at our feet and the idea that we could do something together, not to mention the fun of racing around in a golf cart, I said why not?  I will give this a fair shake.  As it turns out, we play nine holes every other afternoon around 4ish when its not too hot and I really like it.  Don’t misunderstand me the game is all right but the birds, butterflies, palm and orange trees are spectacular.  Keeping score is not an option.  Speeding around in the cart and searching for lost balls is also fun and the occasional “high five” for missing a water hazard is also gratifying.

Speaking of water hazards, many are filled with what the Panamanians lovingly call lagartos which in Spanish means lizard.  I disagree, mi amigos, these are crocodiles and are not tiny.  I was so excited when, in my golf kit, I found a water hazard ball retriever.   I can just see me having a tug of war with Mr. Largarto with yours truly surely losing.

Our first two weeks have been great.  More adventures to come.

Love Aruba Style

It is no secret that love abounds in Aruba.  It is a wedding and honeymoon destination without compare.  So stories of love are not rare.

For example, at our resort, we recently met Alfredo and Kjersti.  Kjersti came to Aruba on vacation from her airlines job 10 years ago.  She is from Norway. While at the beach she met Alfredo.  Alfredo is from Boston but has family on the Island of Aruba.  They fell in love and spent a lot of time together on that vacation.  As they say though, all good things must come to an end and she had to head home to Norway and her responsibilities.  Alfredo and Kjersti lost touch and life goes on.

Ok, fast forward 10 years, Kjersti returns to the Island, the place of her magical romance with Alfredo and visits her favorite restaurant.  She is such a regular here that she even has her own table.  She is miffed because someone is sitting at “her” table and moves on to another one.  She turns around to look again and, you guessed it, sitting at her table is Alfredo her long lost love.  So from that day forward they vowed to never be apart again.  They were married last year and Alfredo moved to Norway where everyday they feel grateful for each other.  How do I know this?  Well apart from them telling me and spending an entire evening and early morning with them talking, laughing and playing roulette, Sam and I have a similar story.

So unbeknownst to us, sitting at the table behind us as we got to know Kjersti and Alfredo was Marisa who was listening intently to our mutual love stories.  Comparing the coincidences and miracles that brought us together with our spouses.   Marisa was in Aruba with her boyfriend and we met her at the beach the next day sitting in the shade while her boyfriend was in another area soaking up the sun.  After some small talk, Marisa turned to us and said “I heard you and that other couple talking yesterday, and I wondered “How did you know? How was it that you knew you wanted to be with this person”?  So she clearly was in a state of turmoil over her relationship and was thinking of breaking it off.  We had a long discussion but my answer is simple.  As corny as it sounds, you just know.   I told Kjersti and Alfredo about Marisa the next day.  We both agreed that we had a part to play in helping someone avoid a big mistake.

You wonder what brings strangers together, how you can instantly share so many intimate details with certain people. Maybe we all have a job to do.  Maybe its to be an inspiration in some way.  Maybe its to help a stranger with a problem.  Maybe its just to acknowledge similar human experiences and validate your own.  I don’t know but I am certain God is involved.

Bon Pasco

Bon Pasco!  In Aruba, this is the Papimento greeting for Merry Christmas.   We really enjoyed ours, hope you did as well.

Our new adventures included spending Christmas in Aruba.  This would be the very first Christmas we have spent away from home.  Despite the obvious differences such as snow vs. palm trees,  family is the constant.  We truly missed ours. The Arubans, like most people everywhere, cherish traditions and family.  The island is alive with parties, decorations and gift exchanges.

Our Christmas Day was spent snorkeling and watching the sunset on the beach sharing a bottle of champagne.  Arubans celebrate big on Christmas Eve and Christmas day is for Sinterklaas to deliver presents to the kids.  Sinterklaas arrives at the marina in Orangestad and the children welcome him as he comes by boat. This is another Dutch influenced tradition.  Aruba has a mixture of influences that have melded into celebrations and daily life.  They have elaborate decorations everywhere.  At almost all of the traffic circles, there is a green area which is decorated lavishly.  One even has a miniature Aruban house completely furnished.  Another has a chorus of Angels.  One has a perfect replica of a cruise boat.  All are colorful and beautiful. We rented a car and traveled the island enjoying them.  We made some friends here and celebrated with them learning their customs and traditions.

We enjoyed the children singing songs in the supermarket.  One little girl truly had the voice of an angel and even though I understood little of what she was singing about, her sweet voice brought tears to my eyes.

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And, of course, Christmas wouldn’t be complete without silly games.  Meet my husband, the snowman.  Needless to say, we didn’t win in the toilet-paper snowman building contest.  Lots of laughs though.dscn6403

We returned to Panama on December 30th and plan on spending a week in Panama City, then up the coast to Coronado and finally a trip to the Caribbean side in Bocas del Toro.  I will be updating this blog as we go.

Here’s wishing all of my readers a very happy and healthy 2017!

It’s Been a while

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I really didn’t feel much like writing while America was embroiled in one the the nastiest yet most important elections of our lifetime.  We have still been having fun but have been closely watching all the drama unfolding in our beloved Country.  We even were able to cast our vote online in late September which was very important to us.

Its  been two months since my last blog and we haven’t gotten sick of Aruba yet.  Some of the reason was because we have gotten into an island rhythm.  An island mindset, if you will.  What a great gift to be able to live in a place with swaying palmtrees, gentle breezes, exotic sea creatures, interesting wildlife and really nice people.

I was missing my family and was able to have a nice long visit here in Aruba with my two daughters and my grandson.  We spent lots of time at the beach, snorkeled in deep water over a ship wreck, hiked, climbed a mountain and went spelunking.  My grandson and I even dipped our feet in a stream while fish nibbled at them and, as crazy as that sounds, was pretty cool.  We fed donkeys and goats, did karaoke or at least my grandson did.  We hiked and explored. Lets see, what else has happened?  Sam grew and cultivated a rather handsome beard.  We also got to know several people pretty well that make their home on Aruba.

One of our favorites is Leon.  He is the main guy on our favorite beach, Moomba.  He works hard keeping the people happy with drinks, food and beach chairs.  He teaches us Spanish and makes sure everyone has everything they need. Leon is 18 and seems much older.   He works very hard to improve his present and future. Leon emigrated from his native Columbia with his Mom and other members of his family and is learning Dutch as well.  He got his certification as an inspector here in Aruba and is looking to ultimately join the FBI in the US.  I have no doubt that he will achieve whatever he sets out to do.  He is smart and very determined.  He always greets us with a smile and we look forward to seeing him each time we go to the beach.

Also, we survived Hurricane Mathew with minimal impact but some damage on the island.  They are quick to clean things up to make ready for tourists. A few weeks later,  while my grandson and daughter were still here, we experienced a rainfall like no other.  It took the islanders by surprise and caused a lot of flooding.  Not realizing how bad it was, we attempted to drive to the beach and came upon overflowing streets and floating cars and had to make several detours returning to our resort an hour later somewhat shaken but safe.    With some answered prayers and great navigation skills by my go-to guy, we made it back safe for a movie marathon and some much needed cocktails.  Even in paradise, things can get dicey.

 

Two beach bums and a Scooter

Ok, so we are a month into our island adventure in Aruba.  Already we have had some great experiences.   So what we notice is we are becoming more and more …. shall we say…. relaxed.  By this I mean my normally fastidious husband is deciding to cut his shaving down to maybe once or twice a week.  Me? I am letting my normally blown dry hair go natural and somewhat wild and my practice of never leaving the house without makeup routine is totally ruined.  This is the siren song of  beach life.  The ability to live in a bathing suit, to use minimal make up and hair products.

But….. we keep telling ourselves we are not on vacation.  This is our home for the next 3 months so some discipline is in order.  We have a great workout facility in the immediate area and we are always walking and exploring.   We are trying to eat healthy but this is a bit more challenging.  They have the most amazing cheeses here, cheap and delicious.  They import a lot of food from Holland so in addition to the amazing cheeses, you will often see a puzzled look on my face in the grocery store at the unfamiliar looking labels.  With names like Aardbeien and Jong Kaas,  it is fun to figure out what the item is and what you would possibly do with it.  I adore food challenges so bring it on.  One of the things that is so nice about this trip is that I have a full kitchen this time.  Getting some good material for a future food blog so check back.dscn3375

Obviously we are spending a lot of time at the beach.  This naturally extends to people watching.  This is a favorite pastime of mine and an endless source of entertainment.  So, there was this American couple eating at the beach bar.  The woman told the bartender her fish was terrible so the bartender took it away and did not charge.  Then the man asked for some juice.  Not just any juice but  maybe a mixture of pineapple and orange, oh no, make that papaya and pineapple, oh no make that orange and papaya.  Here’s where I start rolling my eyes.  Ok so now, he gets his juice, and the bartender had the audacity to charge him, so fish lady chimes in “well if you are going to charge him, I want a full order of juice not just this bar glass, but a tall glass.”  The bartender told them nicely, this is a bar, we don’t give anything away.  Then fish lady opens her personal container and says “fill this with ice”.  These two were a tag team bartenders nightmare and have certainly studied their “How to be an Ugly American” handbook.  So there I sat disgusted and generally embarrassed for my country when along comes Scooter.

Scooter and his lovely wife were visiting from Tampa and were clearly having the time of their lives.  Not usually a fan of cigar smoke, I commented to Sam that the little Cohibas this guy was smoking actually smelled delicious.  Sam was looking longingly at the little beauties.  He is not a smoker but has enjoyed them in his past.  Scooter took note and generously offered Sam one, then the rest of his pack, then in a totally unexpected and generous move, went to the cigar store behind the bar and surprised him with an entire pack while we had a great conversation with his wife.  Wish we would have been able to get to know them better, but alas our ride was waiting.  Scooter, you restored my faith in Americans, at least for today.

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Scooter

 

 

 

 

Aruba With a Twist

dscn1423We are on the move again.  We spent an incredible summer working, visiting, playing and rediscovering our home base in Charlotte, NC.  There was lots of time with family, ball-games and hanging out with new and old friends.  It was everything a trip home should be and all the comfort familiarity can bring.  We enjoyed every minute of it and now are looking forward to our next adventure.

Just a recap.  My husband Sam and I sold our house and most of its contents in June of 2015 and spent last September through April adventuring and discovering Panama.  It was an amazing cultural exploration and a true journey of self-discovery. We worked on learning a new language and meeting interesting people.  Living and navigating a new and exciting country tested and delighted us.

So, this year our first stop is Aruba.  I know, I know if you have read my blogs, you know this isn’t new but now here’s the twist. We always wondered how it would be to spend an extended period of time in Aruba and just see if we can get sick of our favorite place.  So, for the next four months we plan to be beach bums.  It is very interesting how deep you can immerse yourself in local culture when you stay for a long period of time.  Even a tourist destination like Aruba can take on a new shade or two when you stay in a place making it your home.  Anyway, I can think of worse experiments if it goes wrong.  So we will be looking for the unfamiliar as well as the familiar.  We will embrace the local color as well as the tourist attractions.  Also, we have family and friends coming to visit so it will be exciting showing them our favorite places.  So, to me, the metaphor here is…. how much candy can you eat without getting a stomach ache.

The challenge here is realizing you are really not on vacation every day.  This is where we live for the time being.  So, you can’t go full-out vacation mode even though it is tempting.  First of all money is an issue, things you would normally not worry about, fancy dinners, expensive excursions will be more rare.  We need to eat right and get into an exercise routine.  It’s doable but restraint is the key here.

I am so grateful for this experience and thankful I have the kind of partner who is not only wonderful with details but is on the same crazy page I am.

Thank you to the readers of this blog.  Your comments and feedback have been so encouraging and helpful.  I love the idea of taking you all along on this journey and I appreciate you taking the time to read and follow.

I promise to be honest and truthful even if this turns out to be a beach bummer, which right now I can’t imagine but you never know.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Adventures closer to home.

Keeping with my practice of documenting all travels and adventures, Sam and I headed by car from Charlotte, NC to Rochester, NY to visit friends and relatives.  The weather was great and we caught up on all of our favorite radio news programs on the way.  Only two stops for emptying our tanks and filling the cars’.  We made it to Rochester in pretty good time.

Sam and I had our first lunch date years ago at the TGIF Fridays near our hotel.  First night, we had a drink there and decided it would be fun to spend the next day exploring historical landmarks of our relationship.   We went to the venue where we first met, a disco in the City.  We visited the park where we had many conversations and the German House where we had lunch dates.  We visited City Hall and the County Office Building where I used to work.  A bonus was that Rochester, which is not famous for its beautiful weather, was in fact, beautiful.

Meeting up with our family the next day, we headed to a planned a trip to Niagara Falls. Since we grew up an hour away we never really thought of going back until I realized my grandson had never been.  Added to that I found out that Sam had never been on the Maid of the Mist the old standby where a ferry filled with people in rain gear go as close to the falls as is safely possible. We  dripped and giggled as we floated perilously close to the falls.

We saw friends and relatives.  I ate my favorite foods.  Specifically, real authentic pizza, Red Fedeles, amazing calamari capri, the famous Rochester garbage plate and Abbotts frozen custard.  The food pinnacle of course was frequent visits to Wegmans, the greatest grocery store in the world.  I kid you not, look it up.  I visited it 3 times in one day.  I  very nearly get teary eyed in the fresh foods section. We watched my  nephew Jackson play ball and spent a nice evening watching my niece Natalie’s dance recital.

Sam was able to go to Spencer Speedway with his cousins and had a great time sharing memories of the many times he raced his modified there. He was even  interviewed by the announcer who remembered him and called him out of the audience to share some memories with the fans.

Then Sam drove back to Charlotte and I spent a perfect week taking care of my Grandson Aidan.  This kid is super self-sufficient.  He can amuse himself for hours without a peep.  He will be writing stories, drawing amazing pictures,  imagining movie scripts. We went to the movies, went on hikes, made cupcakes, read books,  went swimming.  I asked him once if I could stop and get him something.  He told me “no, all I need is you”.  That moment came very near grandma nirvana.DSCN0744

So now I find myself people watching at JFK in NYC.  Fun stuff.  At the next table is a  woman with an interesting quart jar container of something edible, I wonder how she got it through security?  An older (than me) gentleman trying unsuccessfully to put a cover on his cell phone.  A child pushing a rolling bag up and down, up and down countless times shrieking.  There are lots of vacationers looking dazed yet excited as they navigate their way through the airport hot and sweaty and clearly traveling for the first time.  I make up stories to go with the people.  I give fashion advice in my head, while sipping my Jamba Juice.  There are Captains of industry talking loudly on their cell phones clearly trying to impress the people around them.  Of course, everybody is on their cell phone, including me.

I find people fascinating.  This doesnt mean I want them around all the time.  It will be good to get home to my husband, my own bed and my own story.